The gig economy is frequently criticized as exploitative. People with few options pursue opportunities that don't pay or treat them fairly, the story goes. And it's a trend: More and more Americans find themselves working contingent jobs, without the stability of standard 9-5 employment. Meanwhile, Uber is valued at $72 billion.

But it's actually not that simple. Reality, as ever, is complex, and gig work has upsides as well as downsides.